SAN DIEGO -- For obvious reasons, Padres skipper Jayce Tingler isn’t going to manage his pitching staff like he would in a 162-game season. The Padres won’t be playing a 162-game season in 2020, after all.
With a 60-game schedule and, thus, a heightened sense of urgency, the Padres expect to deploy their pitchers differently than they otherwise would have this year.
"We've got to be prepared for all hands on deck," Tingler said.
Said lefty Matt Strahm: "The feel will be like it's late August and you're in the hunt, because that's exactly what it is. If you have the lead in the fifth inning and a fresh bullpen, why not go to them?"
Strahm is among a handful of Padres pitchers who might be used very differently in a short season. Most notable in that group are these five:
1. Matt Strahm
Strahm might have already been the most versatile pitcher on the San Diego staff. In 2019 alone, he spent time as a starter, long man, late-inning weapon and lefty specialist. In the Andrew Miller mold, he’s the type of pitcher who typically thrives in playoff-style baseball.
"You can't just let a starter go out there and wear it for six innings if he's struggling this year,” Strahm said. “These games mean that much more.”
Strahm was expected to serve mostly as a middle- to late-inning weapon in 2020. But the Padres have a loaded group at the back end, and with added importance on each victory, Strahm might work his way into some high-leverage spots early in games.
2. Chris Paddack
For the first time in his pro career, Chris Paddack was going to be turned loose this season. But in a 162-game calendar, the Padres would have still exercised some caution. Perhaps they would have given him an extra day between starts on occasion. Maybe they'd have been more cognizant of pitch counts.
But in a short season, even the minor constraints on Paddack's workload need not apply. The Padres won't be careless with a budding 24-year-old star, but after he cracked 140 innings last season, there's no reason to think they could extract 12-13 max-effort outings from him.
As Paddack said, "It's going to be 60 games of playoffs."
3. Cal Quantrill
In truth, Cal Quantrill's role probably doesn't change much from what it would have been in a 162-game season. He's set to open the year as a swingman with the capability of making a spot start or pitching multiple relief innings. Except Quantrill's swingman role suddenly seems significantly more important in 2020.
Given the stakes, Tingler is probably more inclined to go to his bullpen early this year. If he needs to do so in the first couple innings, it falls on Quantrill’s shoulders to keep the staff fresh. (And with a designated hitter in the lineup, Quantrill would be able to work as long as necessary.)
4. Adrian Morejon
The long-term fit of Adrian Morejon remains up for debate among team decision makers. But they know one thing about their No. 6 prospect on the MLB Pipeline rankings: His stuff is Major League-level good. Per sources, Morejon has been sharp early in the team's intrasquad games, and he's making a serious case to claim one of the four additional roster spots for the season's first two weeks.
In a normal year, Morejon likely would've built up to a starter's workload at Triple-A. But that’s not an option with the Minor League season canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Morejon could theoretically factor as a short-outing starter, a multi-inning lefty reliever or an opener (a role he filled a couple times last season).
5. Joey Lucchesi
If the Padres plan to turn Paddack loose in a 60-game season, they might do the opposite with Joey Lucchesi to limit his innings. Check out Lucchesi's career splits, by number of times through the order:
First and second times through: .227/.285/.400
Third time through: .312/.395/.548
Over a 162-game slate, there's probably value to be gained from asking Lucchesi to work deeper into games, perhaps saving the bullpen from burning out. But in a 60-game season, it's worth wondering whether Lucchesi's best value might come as a four- or five-inning starter. The Padres, in all likelihood, will have the bullpen horses available to cover the last few frames. (This is, of course, presuming Lucchesi makes the rotation, which is not yet a sure thing.)